The Spectacle Blog

Cutting Defense Doesn’t Address Our Debt Problem and It Endangers America

By on 7.8.11 | 11:40AM

Jim references a fine piece by Spectator alum Phil Klein, who notes that tax hikes won't balance the budget, but spending cuts will.

"From a purely technical standpoint," writes Phil, "it's possible to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal course without raising taxes. But it isn't possible to increase taxes high enough to balance the long-term budget without cutting spending."

Phil's absolutely right. And the problem with raising taxes isn't only its ineffectiveness in terms of debt reduction; it is that raising taxes, especially in our sluggish and weak economy, hinders economic growth and job creation. Yet without far more robust economic growth, our debt problem will become unmanageable.

But there's a corollary to Phil's point about tax hikes, and it is this: Just as you cannot raise taxes enough to balance the budget; so, too, can you not cut the defense budget sufficiently to defuse our rapidly ticking debt bomb. And that's because defense spending ain't the problem; entitlements are.

Indeed, as the Heritage Foundation's James J. Carafano points out, you could eliminate the defense budget altogether and still, entitlements would bankrupt us within 40 years. Given all the propaganda and spin in the media that's probably hard for most people to believe, but the data are telling.

Since 1970, reports House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI),

defense spending has shrunk as a share of the federal budget from about 39 percent to just under 16 percent -- even as we conduct an ambitious global war on terrorism. The fact is, defense consumes a smaller share of the national economy today than it did throughout the Cold War.

Heritage, likewise, notes that:

Spending on national defense, a core Constitutional function of government, has declined significantly over time, despite wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Spending on the three major entitlements -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- has more than tripled.

In fact,

defense spending is near historic lows... Between 2010 and 2015, total defense spending is set to fall from 4.9 percent to 3.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), even though the nation has assigned more missions to the military over the past two decades.

Thus what Phil says about raising taxes is equally true of cutting defense:

When analysts say that [defense cuts] have to be part of the solution, they're making an argument about the feasibility of the politics, not of the policy.

From a policy standpoint, unsustainable projected growth in entitlement programs makes [reform of these programs] necessary no matter what. [Defense cuts] aren't required, but Republicans are being told they must accept them because they're the price of doing business with Democrats.

But if there's one thing the federal government absolutely must do it is defend the United States of America. Nothing else is mentioned in the Constitution, and everything else pales in comparison.

Unfortunately, there's been a lot of cheap and careless talk about cutting "fat" in the defense budget. But Obama already has cut an estimated $330 billion from the defense budget. How much more can we cut before we start sacrificing actual warfighting capabilities?

Please understand: the biggest cost drivers in the defense budget are not weapon systems, but rather pay and benefits. Yet no one in Congress is talking about cutting or reforming these parts of the defense budget.

In truth, American cannot afford any more defense cuts, which will do nothing in any case to address our fundamental problem with out-of-control entitlement spending.

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